President Obama Names San Gabriel Mountains a National Monument

The site of geology and astronomy research, camping trips and 128 speedo hikes up the 10,000-foot Mount Baldy, the San Gabriel Mountains have seen many 5C students over the years. On Oct. 10, 350,000 acres of the mountain range became a national monument, per a proclamation by President Barack Obama delivered from Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park in nearby San Dimas.

The mountains will see increased oversight from the U.S. Forest Service as well as possible additional funding, according to the Los Angeles Times. The Times also reported that Obama’s designation excludes Mount Baldy and other communities east of the San Bernardino line, a response to opponents concerned that the monument will impede economic growth and threaten fire safety at the eastern end of the Angeles National Forest. 

Pomona associate geology professor Jade Star Lackey wrote in an email to TSL that students in the geology department often carry out research projects in the Western and Eastern San Gabriel Mountains. Many of those projects were part of Pomona’s Summer Undergraduate Research Program. However, Lackey wrote that the mountains are currently “desecrated.”

“On field trips we commonly go off the beaten path in search of outcrops, only to find ravines filled with trash and bullet-riddled appliances,” Lackey wrote. “We often pull up to a favorite outcrop that we’ve used for years to teach important geologic concepts like cross-cutting relations, only to find that it’s covered with graffiti.”

General pollution is something that the mountains have struggled with in the past few years. The LA Times reported that there has been a major increase in the amount of graffiti, litter and general wear and tear that the park sustains on a daily basis.

“The Forest Service tries to cover…up such eyesores with earth-toned paint, but for us, once a rock is painted over, it’s useless for studying in a field trip,” Lackey wrote. “We’ve also had equipment stolen at research sites, another frustration.”

In addition to geology department research, the mountains are also home to Pomona’s Table Mountain Observatory, which will be used by the astronomy department as part of its $9 million project to search for transient astronomical events. Students from On The Loose (OTL), the outdoors club of the colleges, frequent the mountains on informal trips, and Pomona’s Outdoor Education Center also provides students with opportunities to explore the mountains through wilderness training and rock climbing. 

Frank Lyles PO ’17, a geology major and a leader in OTL, said that this proclamation was much needed, as OTL stomping grounds have not been spared from the degradation of recent years. 

“It was, like, beautiful, pristine, amazing forest at the top and just the lower we got the more we saw graffiti, trash, garbage,” Lyles said of a recent visit to the mountains. “They’ve actually closed the [Eaton] canyon now.”

However, the purpose of the move to make the mountains a national monument is not as clear-cut as the proclamation implies, according to Char Miller, Pomona’s W. M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis and environmental analysis program director. 

The last three U.S. presidents have all used the 1906 Antiquities Act, under which this proclamation was filed, as a way of both furthering their legacy and providing relief to national parks and forests during times when Congress is gridlocked, according to Miller. Besides these motivations, Miller mentioned local political pressures.

“President Obama was also responding to an aggressive campaign from some of his important constituencies in the San Gabriel Valley,” Miller wrote in an email to TSL. 

While some believe that the additional administrative body will ease the strain placed on the forest service and lead to better control over the parks, there are concerns over the funding for the project, according to Miller.

“The catch is that that same Congress, dominated by the GOP-led House, and which oversees the federal budget, will determine whether the president’s promises of pushing more money to this particular site will come true,” Miller wrote. “I’m betting not.”

The change in supervision may also limit future academic projects in the area.

Joanmarie Del Vecchio PO ’15 is a geology major who is researching in the San Gabriel Mountains for her thesis. She said that while she is happy that the proclamation will bring more attention to the mountains, scientific sampling and research will become more difficult as there will be more restrictions and security by the U.S. Forest Service.

“We’re actually trying to get some of the sampling done this year because over the next three years, that transition will happen,” Del Vecchio said. “And maybe three years from now, people would not be able to do the project that I’m doing this fall.”

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